Politics & Policy

Reporting While Wrong

The New York Times peddles more 'driving while black' malarkey.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the September 12, 2005, issue of National Review.

The New York Times’s bad faith regarding the police has reached a new low. On August 24, a front-page article claimed that the Justice Department had tried to suppress damning evidence of racial profiling by the nation’s police forces. In fact, it is the Times that is suppressing evidence.

For years, activists have argued that some drivers face a heightened risk of being stopped by bigoted cops. David Harris, a University of Toledo law professor and ubiquitous police critic, provided a classic statement of the “Driving While Black” conceit in 1999: “Anyone who is African-American is automatically suspect during every drive to work, the store, or a friend’s house.” Owing to this “automatic suspicion,” Harris posited in his 2002 book, Profiles in Injustice, “pretextual stops will be used against African-Americans and Hispanics . . . out of proportion to their numbers in the driving population.”

The “Driving While Black” belief is pervasive, powerful, and false. According to a survey of 80,000 civilians conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (an arm of the Justice Department) in 2002, an identical proportion of white, black, and Hispanic drivers–9 percent–were stopped by the police in the previous year. And the stop rate for blacks was lower during the day, when officers can more readily determine a driver’s race, than at night. These results demolish the claim that minorities are disproportionately subject to “pretextual stops.”

Clearly, these findings should be news of a high order–so that must be why the Times buried them in paragraph 11 of its front-page story (and omitted the day-night disparity entirely). But not only did the Times conceal the study’s import, it also had the temerity to spin the survey as confirming the racial-profiling myth…

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